Wednesday, April 15, 2015
Witchfinder, by Sarah A. Hoyt
I received a free review copy of Witchfinder in the Kindle version. There were no technical problems with the transfer.
This is the third book in my run-up to the Hugos. It really serves a double function. In the first place, it's a substitute for the Hugo recommended “A Few Good Men” which was on the SP2 slate, but did not make the nomination ballot. However, I very recently reviewed AFGM, on March 4 to be exact, and 'Witchfinder' makes an excellent substitute for that work, since the story-telling is of the same quality, and the non-story elements that MAY enter into Hugo consideration are essentially identical.
The second reason that this book is included in the Hugo run-up is that Sarah serves as a mentor, trail-blazer, role-model, and cultivator of good writers through her blogs. It is worthy to note that no less than THREE of the Nominees for Best Fan Writer are rotating authors of her spin-off blog Mad Genius Club (Dave Freer, Amanda Green, and Cedar Sanderson), and a fourth member of the Club is Jason Cordova, a nominee for the Campbell Award.
Now, I am SORELY tempted to expand at delirious length on this second aspect of the book, the role that Sarah plays in the lives of other authors and fans of fantasy and science fiction. And, upon further reflection, it would be hard to overstate the importance of her role. However, to do so here would likely be a cheat to the readers of this book review, because it would fall into the area of the Private Joke. I even twitted (not Twittered, twitted) Sarah a bit, saying I was going to embarrass her by waxing eloquent on her many sterling qualities. Not going to do that, because it would really only be of interest to Sarah and the others who would get the Private Joke. But book reviews are supposed to be about books, and not about authors. And to show myself I am sincere in this approach. I just deleted a Private Joke that was really funny to me, but maybe NOBODY ELSE would get it, except for my gift-from-God, happily-ever-after trophy wife Vanessa, the elegant foxy praying black grandmother of Woodstock, GA. (And that's NOT a private joke, it's reality.)
Okay, I now realize that the insight I have about book reviews being about books and not authors has more application than just to the part of the review I have written so far. I will now proceed to review the book, and then, finally, get to the point which I just discovered.
Witchfinder is set in a universe of alternative worlds, each with varying degrees of utility and acceptance of magic. The title character is Seraphim, Duke of Darkwater, who is alerted by a pocketwatch inherited from his father when a magic user in any world is under attack. His job is rescue them, returning them to his world, Avalon, where magic is common and not subject to persecution, particularly in his homeland, Britannia. He is assisted in this by his illegitimate half-brother, Gabriel, a by-blow of his father's with an elf maiden. He does not know that he is under surveillance by Nell, an emigrant from another world, who is compelled to do so by the mysterious but undoubtedly evil Sydell. There is significant, although illegal, trafficking between the world of Avalon and other worlds, particularly Fairyland, source of elves, dragons, centaurs and other fantastic people. Other significant characters include Marlon Elfborn, a former tutor with dark secrets; Michael and Caroline, the twin siblings of Seraphin, half-sibs to Gabriel; Honoria, Seraphim's fiance'; Barbara, the Dowager Duchess and mother of Seraphim; and, at a distance, the King and Queen of Brittania, Richard and Cecilia.
Seraphim begins the book wounded from a prior rescue, and before he is able to recover, is drawn again to a rescue of a lion shifter where he collides, literally, with Nell, who has been trying to track him surreptitiously. He is forced to take her with him back to Avalon, along with the shifter. They almost immediately develop an attraction to each other, which provides the setting for the primary love story in the book. Secondary love stories include one between Caroline and a newly met person (avoiding spoilers), the love affair between Barbara and her deceased husband; between Richard and Cecilia; and, most significantly for the next part of this review, the covert love affair between Gabriel and Marlon.
This last is the common element between A Few God Men and Witchfinder. The hero of AFGM and the 'co-hero' (is that a word? I don't think it's a real word) of Witchfinder are gay. There is no exchange of body fluids described in the book, anywhere, regardless of the nature of the participants; it's not that kind of book. Sarah says that her characters determine their own personalities, which seems rather weird, but I've heard other authors say that as well. At any rate, in both of these books of Sarah's, there is a main character who is gay, and it causes some problems for them in their societies, but the characters are treated with respect and given other traits and behaviors that are not a function of genitalia. And yet Sarah's work is ignored by the crowd that elected the Hugo winners, that cries for diversity and inclusion.
Evidently, what they mean by this is that they want diversity of authors, or to be specific, they want LGBT authors, women authors, and authors who are persons of color. To this I say: BLEEP the authors! BLEEP the BLEEPING authors and their genitalia and what they do with it and their skin color! I DO NOT FREAKEN CARE ABOUT THE AUTHORS!!!!!!
I care about the STORY. Sarah has written, in these two books, a great story with sympathetic characters who are gay, and in doing so is giving an entire subset of the readers a character they can identify with. THAT is what is important about a book: does it give me someone I can see as me, even if I have to stretch a bit to fit in their shoes? Sarah has done that, and lots of other authors have done that as well. Heck, the first Spider Robinson book I read was “Telempath,” followed by “Night of Power,” and until I finally saw a picture of him I was convinced he was black! That's because he focused on the STORY. And Sarah focuses on the STORY. And she brings diversity of characters in to her works, and THAT'S what matters in terms of diversity, because it appeals to a diversity of readers. NOT, and I repeat NOT a diversity of writers.
Look, I get it that in the ancient days, all kinds of people were denied access to any number of opportunities for reasons that had nothing to do with real qualifications. That is no longer the case; if it IS the case for authors at one or more of the major publishing houses, then self publishing is always available. No author with ability is denied access to a reading public. So, can we PLEASE JUST IGNORE THE #### AUTHORS AND CONCENTRATE ON THE READERS? We are, after all, the ones who PAY THE FREAKEN BILLS!
Submitted with love and respect for all.